October 22, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
I was at the Alton L. Collins Retreat Center for two different meetings last week. I love going there for a variety of reasons. I find that our meetings there are productive because of the setting. The break times are fantastic. I always enjoy seeing Todd and Laura and Megan. And, of course, there is the food. When we met there for the first time with the extended cabinets of our new sister conferences, Pacific Northwest and Alaska, they commented that one of things they were excited about in the new relationship was this retreat center.
It’s an incredible asset to our conference and our community. And while it’s somewhat unique among our camps, its ministry is part of a much broader one that is expressed among all of the camp and retreat ministry sites across our conference. From Wallowa to Latgawa and from Magruder to Sawtooth, with Suttle Lake holding down the center, we are providing extravagant hospitality and spiritual formation opportunities which are changing lives and transforming the world.
I am grateful for those who had a vision of such ministries as well as those who continue to commit themselves to this great work.
Thank you for your part in this important work which we share.
Grace and Peace,
Living in God’s Grace
Some years ago, the cover of Time magazine posed the question: "Does God Want You to Be Rich?" Many of the Christians (from the "Prosperity Movement") interviewed in the article responded with a resounding, "Yes! God does want you to be rich, powerful, prestigious." According to the article, the Prosperity Movement preaches: "...if a believer could establish through word and deed (usually donation), that he or she was 'in Jesus Christ,' then Jesus' father would respond with paternal gifts of health and wealth in this life." But this "success" strategy didn't work for the blameless Job, it didn't work for the righteous rich man (Mark 10:17-31), and it doesn't work for most of us today -- no matter how hard we try to "buy" or "earn" the gifts of God's Grace. God invites us to recognize Grace alive in the world, whatever our circumstances: in wealth and in poverty, prestige and powerlessness, wholeness and brokenness. God invites all us all into life-giving discipleship and stewardship, but it is often only when we recognize our own poverty, powerlessness, and brokenness that we're able to accept the invitation. And, if and when we do recognize these Christ-like qualities (that we all possess), may we do so with merciful eyes, similar to those of our gracious, loving God.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
The end of October presents us with different opportunities to understand more fully the sense that, as Christian stewards, "every dimension of [our] lives" can be "a witness of the living Christ and a channel for God's grace poured out to all." Observing All Saints Day can be, for many churches, one such opportunity (a very moving one, at that). The UMC Book of Worship says, "All Saints (November 1 or the first Sunday in November) is a day of remembrance for the saints, with the New Testament meaning of all Christian people of every time and place." (413) If your church observes All Saints Day, a key stewardship question for enhancing your celebration might be: "Who are those people in our lives (past and present, near and far) who have been 'witnesses of the living Christ' and 'channels for God's grace poured out to all?'" In celebrating these witnesses, we become more aware of God's work in the world and of the myriad ways of being God's stewards.
In addition to All Saints Day, your church may be observing Bread for the World Sunday (please see the "awareness and Action" section below) or Reformation Day (October 31). These two observances can also be looked at from a stewardship perspective: looking to the past for those who lived as channels of God's Grace, and asking ourselves how we too can serve as such channels today.
From Richard Donovan:*
"God feeds billions daily, but we take notice only when we miss a meal."
How can we awaken authentic gratitude (within ourselves and others) for God's unending Grace, both in times that feel "abundant" and in times that feel "scarce"?
*Richard and Kathleen Donovan provide the helpful website, lectionary.org .
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for October 28, 2012: Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46- 52
Reflections on Job 42:1-6, 10-17
If you've been following the readings from Job, by the time you get to chapter 42 you may find yourself experiencing a range of emotions -- relief, anger, confusion, etc. God has just taken Job on a whirlwind tour of the cosmos and now Job speaks to God from his place of awe and suffering. But, the God that Job addresses isn't simply the one that Job once "heard of" (42:5a) -- the God who (according to the dominate theology of the time) neatly rewarded righteousness with riches, and unrighteousness with poverty. Now, Job "sees" (42:5b) God as never before. Biblical scholar Hugh Anderson writes, "Before the God of the whirlwind the little God of retributive justice to whom the friends cling has been reduced to what he really is, an idol fabricated by men, designed to adjust life's inequalities and anomalies...."* Job now addresses the God who he has "seen" to be beyond all manipulation and control. Martin B. Copenhaver writes: "...the epilogue [**] does not say that God restored Job's fortunes and relationships in response to Job's words of repentance and humility [***]. Instead, God's reasons for giving things to Job are as unexplained as the reasons they were taken away. God does not explain suffering, but God does not explain beatitude either. They are twin mysteries."****
How does Job respond to these "twin mysteries"? How do we, as "stewards of God's mysteries" (1 Cor. 4:1), respond? Some commentators emphasize Job's response lived out in restored relationships with family and friends (including their significant contributions to his well-being in v.11) and a very new relationship with God. Others emphasize a particular detail: Job gives an inheritance to his three daughters "along with their brothers" (v.15) -- an unheard of practice in the ancient Near East. In reflecting on this unique detail, biblical scholar Bob Linthicum goes as far as to say: "Perhaps [the author of Job] is suggesting that through his [Job's] own deep suffering, Job has become far more sensitive to the plight of the powerless (for instance, women), and is by his own actions seeking to rectify such injustice. Perhaps he is suggesting that a profound change has come over Job as a result of his experience -- a change that sees him standing for justice just as he stood up for his innocence, unrepentant for having confronted God."*****
Reflections on Mark 10:46-52******
This crucial passage in Mark presents the final event in Jesus' Galilean ministry; next he moves into Jerusalem and into his Passion. This story represents the culmination of Jesus' teachings on discipleship and, by extension, on stewardship as well. ******* This final event isn't accompanied by the sort of political grandstanding that the disciples may be expecting from the One who will usher in the kingdom (at least their imperial vision of "kingdom"). Rather, it comes as the result of a typical (i.e., for a Jewish pilgrim entering Jerusalem) encounter with a beggar, a blind man. His name is Bartimaeus -- a name that translates as "son of poverty" in Aramaic and "son of the unclean" in Hebrew.******** The scene is set in sharp contrast to the ones that precedes it: Jesus' previous encounters with James and John (Mark 10:35-45) and with the rich man (Mark 10:17-31). Unlike James and John, when presented with Jesus' same question -- "What do you want me to do for you?" -- Bartimaeus doesn't ask for power/privilege/glory as the disciples did (Mark 10:37). Bartimaeus asks instead for "vision" and wholeness of life. Unlike the rich man, this son of poverty/the unclean will (1) cast aside all that he has (his cloak), (2) gain fullness of life (symbolized by the restoration of his sight), and (3) become a disciple of Jesus. Bartimaeus sits on the completely opposite end of social spectrum from the rich man and the disciples (and the Roman and Israelite powerful elite as well) -- and yet, this untouchable, poor one is to be the model disciple/steward. As Bob Linthicum says, "It will be among the poor, Mark is saying, among the beggars, among the blind, among those pushed to the side of the road by both systems and disciples - it is among these poor in whom hope still lies for the embracing of the kingdom of God."
*From Anderson's commentary on Job in The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1971) 251.
**Many biblical scholars consider this "happy ending" epilogue to be added onto an earlier text; Anderson comments, "The majority of interpreters hold that the prose narrative of the epilogue, which belongs to the same folk-tale world as the prologue, cannot have been part of the original book..." (ibid).
***Copenhaver is referring to Job 42:6; because of uncertainties in the verse's translation and meaning, it's hard to know if Job continues his defiance or if he is truly contrite.
**** Martin B. Copenhaver, "Risking a happy ending," Job 42:1-6; 10-17 - - Living by the Word Column Christian Century, Oct 12, 1994. Italics added.
*****From Bob Linthicum's weekly devotional on the Partners in Urban Transformation web site; bold added for emphasis.
******This week's reflection on Mark is heavily influenced by Ched Myers' Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus (New York: Orbis, 1988), 281-289.
*******When we talk about "whole-life stewardship" -- i.e., responding to God's Grace with our whole lives -- then we must talk simultaneously about discipleship (and vice versa). In reality, these two, essential Christian "roles" are inseparable.
******** Michael A. Turton's online Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark.
Image: Detail from the Ceremonial Bronze Doors, St. James Catholic Cathedral, Seattle.
Telling the Story
Over the years I've encouraged pastors to follow a practice I learned from one of my mentors early in ministry. It's the practice of using the time of the offering to "tell the story." Here's a suggestion to introduce the offering this Sunday:
Starting new faith communities is a critical element of The United Methodist Church’s strategy to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In 2008 we set a goal of starting 400 in the four year period 2009 – 2012. We’ve started over 350 so far, and while we may not reach the 400 mark by the end of the year, we can celebrate the incredible progress we’re making.
So today, as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings, let’s celebrate the ways we contribute to our shared mission of developing new faith communities across the nation and around the world.
Awareness and Action
Bread for the World Sunday
Consider Richard Donovan's quote above: "God feeds billions daily, but we take notice only when we miss a meal." As Christians, we're called to be mindful of God's daily miracles of Grace. And we can express our gratitude for these miracles by helping to share grace with those around the world who "miss a meal" more often than not.
"Bread for the World Sunday is a time for churches to renew their commitment to ending hunger in God's world. This growing movement on behalf of hungry people includes major church bodies, religious organizations, and congregations-all participating in an international effort to overcome poverty and disease in Africa, the United States, and around the world. Elected officials, business leaders, and celebrities are advocating increased investments in health, education, and agriculture so that hungry and poor people can earn a living and feed their families." Please click on the following link to learn more about Bread for the World Sunday.
“I sought God, who answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. …
O taste and see that God is good! Happy is the one who takes refuge in God!”
--Psalm 34:4, 8, An Inclusive-Language Lectionary
“An Act of Repentance Toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous People” was – for many – a high moment of the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla.
The service launched an ongoing process of repentance for the abuse of native peoples worldwide.
“It is time for the church to look at the gifts and graces of Native Americans,” said Josephine Deere in an interview. The delegate from the Oklahoma Indiana Missionary Conference is a member of the Muscogee Nation.
The General Board of Global Ministries assisted in bringing several Native Americans to Tampa for the Act of Repentance. Among them was Skyler Corbett, a young man of the Klamath Paute and a member of Wilshire United Methodist Church, Portland, Ore.
In an interview, Corbett recalled how others bullied and taunted him when he was younger because he is Native American. He also felt he was considered “different” in the churches he attended, until he found Wilshire Church.
“I joined because in an open session, the members sat in a circle, an open circle, and I told what it means to be Native American, what our history means.” He felt accepted.
Native Americans have influenced the history, cultural development and continuing growth of the United States. In 1976, Congress authorized a week in October as Native American Awareness Week. In 1990, the month of November was chosen for American Indian Heritage Month.
--Adapted from a U.M. News Service article by Elliott Wright, April 28, 2012
Missionary Donna Chaat Pewo prays that United Methodist “repentance” for past injustice to Native Americans and other indigenous people will open new doors for her ministry among Arapaho and Cheyenne children in western Oklahoma.
Pewo, a local pastor, was in Tampa, Fla., to be commissioned as a Church and Community Worker by the General Board of Global Ministries.
She believes the “power of forgiveness can undo the past damage the church had done to Native people.”
Pewo is especially hopeful that the church can bring a message of love and concern to children and youth. She works at the Clinton Indian Community Center with children and youth, ages 3 to 14. “Many are from broken homes and experience discrimination in public school,” she says. “The church is their place of refuge. They have taken ownership of the church, not only looking after our building but also looking out for one another.
“Our presence in the community is vital,” says Pewo. “I extend an olive branch, trying to heal the wounds.”
You constantly invite us to recognize and enjoy
Your Grace alive in the world,
whatever our life circumstances may be:
in wealth and in poverty
in prestige and powerlessness,
in wholeness and brokenness.
In every season of our lives, we know that Your Grace is sufficient.
Please bless these gifts as responses to,
and conveyors of,
Your sufficient Grace.
In Your name we pray, Amen
from Radical Gratitude
Creator God, you see each of us as unique, with gifts we often deny. Open our eyes that we may see the talents of each of your children. Open our hearts to encourage our sisters and brothers to share those talents. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
God of love and goodness, we bless you as those who have been the recipients of blessings too numerous to count. We boast in you as those who have been carried in your arms through the rough and troubled times of our lives. We pray this morning that the gifts we give and the lives we live might magnify your love and goodness, and that through our lives, your name might be exalted! We praise you with all our voice! Amen. (Psalm 34:1-8.)
from General Board of Discipleship
"Grappling with issues of money and wealth raise issues related to virtually every aspect of our lives ... Generosity is both a path and an outcome of a money and faith journey."
-- Michael Troutman